Amb. Ochi Ode Emmanuel is the Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in South-West Nigeria. Ochi, who is not happy over the state of the Middle Belt states after 16 years under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview with JAMES IBECHI feels that the new governors are not working at the pace expected by the people. He also maintains that the All Progressives Congress (APC) will not survive as a party after the Buhari Presidency.
How would you react to President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent bailout of state governments who could not pay salaries of their civil servants for several months?
The issue of the bailout is not new. It has happened several times in the last administration. You will recall the genesis of the problem between the states and the Federal Government was the Sovereign Wealth Fund savings, which the President Goodluck Jonathan administration introduced. The governors rejected it, saying there was no need to save for the rainy day. The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), then headed by former Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, almost led a confrontation against the government, which resulted in a serious dent on the relationship between the Federal Government and the states. In order to curtail the rising profile of Amaechi, the Federal Government tried to unseat him as the NGF chairman during his second term. That polarized the forum. The issue of the Sovereign Wealth Fund was taken to the Supreme Court and the parties went for political settlement. The Federal Government shifted ground and decided to be sharing the money between the Federal, States and Local Governments. Also, there was the SURE-P funds. All these were to augment whatever the states were getting from the monthly allocations. But what followed? The governors went on spending spree, buying private jets, houses at home and abroad. All these impoverished the states. So, there is nothing new in what Buhari did concerning the so-called bailout. The then governors should be asked what they did with the federal allocations, the SURE-P Funds and Escrow Account accruals. They should be asked to produce the monies.
Is there no way the Federal Government could have been monitoring the expenses of the state governments to ensure that the state governments utilise the allocations prudently?
When the Federal Government allocated monies to states, the states should do the needful by utilising such monies wisely on capital projects and payment of salaries. Salaries are the rights of civil servants. Nigeria is running a democracy, with the powers and duties of the federal, states and local governments clearly stated. So, Buhari (or Jonathan), as the president, has no power in the constitution to monitor the expenses of the state governors. No one should blame the president if the monies allocated to states are mismanaged. Although he is the father of the nation, his hands are tied because of the devolution of powers as contained in the constitution.
The new administrations are into their second month in office. To what extent would you say the governments in the Middle Belt are settling down to tackling the problems in their states?
So far, I have not really seen anything to show that there are new administrations in power, not only in the Middle Belt states, but all over the nation. So far, there is nothing on the ground to show that people who were ready for governance have taken over. There is nothing on the table. Maybe they are still reading their handover notes. Look at the Federal Government, for instance, President Muhammadu Buhari has been running for elections for the past 12 years. Having taken over for close to two months, those things he had on his fingertips should have been on the table by now. This is why Nigerians are now saying that this is not the ‘Change’ they bargained and voted for.
In what areas would you like governors in the Middle Belt to focus their attention on?
I think if Mr A is on the saddle and Mr B finds out that Mr A is not doing well; if Mr B gets to the office, he should not remain aloof for a long time. That means that he is not prepared. The incumbent governors should try and correct the mistakes of the past governors and put things in place. They have been there for about two months now. I expect them, for example, to set up task forces to generate internal revenues to fix things since the federal allocations are dwindling. So far, the governors have folded their arms. This is ineptitude that should not be tolerated since they prepared for governance. The states were not just being created. There are statutory laws as regards collection of internally generated revenues. If they think the laws are moribund, they should be amended, modernised and updated in the areas that need improvement.
Would you suggest that the Middle Belt governors should come together under a Forum like their South-East, Northern, South-West and South-South counterparts, to forge a united front for the development of the region? What do you think such a forum can achieve if formed?
It is really an oversight by the Middle Belt governors that they have not come together to form a common platform to tackle common problems in the region. But, the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) have worked seriously to subjugate the Middle Belt as a nation. It is one of the issues that the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) under my leadership is trying to project. It is on the pipeline that the Council will soon visit the Middle Belt governors. This is one of the issues we shall table before them. I know that many of them have been brainwashed and may not easily accept this. But I know there is a need for this forum for the Middle Belt Governors.
How do you see Governor Samuel Ortom’s cabinet? Do you think the members are capable of supporting him to take Benue State to the next level?
As the governor of the state, he has his mindset and what he wants to do and what he wants to be remembered for. The people he appointed are his like minds who he believes can carry out his programmes. So, I do not want to talk about who works for him because the buck stops on his table. I am sure the people he appointed are those he feels he can work with
North Central has once more produced the Senate President in the person of Bukola Saraki. What would you say the zone in general and Benue State in particular gained when the position was occupied by David Mark?
I have always said that when politicians fight for leadership in government they do not have in mind the interests of the common people. They only use the people to get to positions. After that, they begin to think of themselves alone. If not, how would you be in a position of leadership representing your people for over 12 years or even 16 years and you cannot boast of motorable roads in your immediate constituency? You cannot boast of any federal institution that is worthwhile in your constituency. Then, what have you been doing in government? It is unfortunate that our people are so gullible that they do not call their leaders to question and say: “Tell us what you have done that is commensurate with your position at the national level”. Because we do not do so, people come back and share the little change they have and the people rejoice. If the people were asking questions, what were their answers? Someone who has occupied a position should be accountable before asking for new offices. All of then are not performing and therefore have performed, not only in the Middle Belt or North central, but in Nigeria. That is why the Nigerian state is in a state of stagnation.